What does “brand” actually mean?

I have been working as a brand strategist in creative and digital agencies for over five years. You might think it’s a bit embarrassing to even ask this question: What does “brand” actually mean?

“Brand” is a term that is constantly used in marketing – and thanks to expressions such as “personal brand” or celebrities like the Kardashians and BeyoncĂ©, increasingly in everyday life too. But what it really means often depends on the context. Depending on the person, situation and context, “brand” means something different to everyone.

Here are a few examples:

  • Brand strategy
  • Brand management
  • Brand protection
  • Brand values
  • Brand image
  • Brand communication
  • Brand identity

These are just some of the terms that revolve around the topic of brands. You see, we often get lost in a “brand fog” where everyone uses the word, but without clarity about what it actually means.

But a clear definition is important because brands are valuable assets, as John Stuart, Chairman of Quaker Oats, said in 1900:
“If this company were to be split up, I would take the brands, trademarks and reputation and give you all the buildings and materials – and I would be better off than you.”

I think there are three different meanings of “brand” that we should be aware of:

1. “Trademark” as an indication of origin

Originally, a trademark was simply a sign or stamp that identified the origin of goods or services. The brand was an indication of where the product came from.

  • These solar cells come from this manufacturer.
  • These electric cars were developed by this company.

By knowing the origin, customers could better assess the quality. This became increasingly important with industrialization, as contact between consumers and producers grew.

This original meaning still exists today. Terms such as “brand management”, “brand guidelines” or “brand identity” refer to this meaning.

2. “Brand” as a reputation

Over time, the term has evolved, and today “brand” also stands for a company’s reputation. While a company can control its origins and its logo, its reputation lies in people’s minds.

You cannot completely control what customers think of you. They can develop strategies and take steps to influence the reputation, but ultimately it remains a matter of intentions and wishes.

Therefore, there are many terms that fall under this meaning of brand:

  • Brand strategy and positioning (what you want customers to think about you)
  • Brand communication (content that strengthens the reputation)
  • Brand goals (how you measure progress)
  • Brand guardians (persons who monitor the brand work)

3. “Brand” as a company

After all, “brand” is often used as a synonym for the company itself. In this sense, the brand does not stand for a symbol or reputation, but for the product or service that the company offers.

  • “Favorite brand” (product or service that someone prefers)
  • Brand launch (introduction of a new product or service)
  • Brand awareness (Do people know the brand?)

Examples of brands:

  • Apple:
    As a brand, Apple stands for innovation, first-class design and user-friendliness. The company offers smartphones, laptops and wearables, while the brand is embodied by its iconic apple logo, minimalist design and the vision of founder Steve Jobs.
  • Nike:
    Nike as a brand stands for performance, sport and motivation. The company sells sportswear and equipment, while the brand is known worldwide for the “Swoosh” and the motto “Just Do It”.
  • BMW:
    BMW as a brand conveys dynamism, luxury and technological progress. The company offers cars and motorcycles, while the brand is defined by its distinctive emblem, the slogan “The joy of driving” and a clear focus on driving experience and premium quality.

Conclusion:

If you want to build a brand, it is crucial to know what “brand” means for your company. You should plan your marketing campaigns in such a way that they contribute to both the origin and the reputation of your brand.

A strong brand delivers two things:

  • A unique offer that meets the needs of your target group
  • A clear positioning that stands out from the competition

This requires a lot of work, but it is the way to more sales and greater customer loyalty.